Dear Producer - 8 Workflow Tips from Your Digital Tech

Producers are the unsung heroes within the photo industry. Ensuring every aspect of the shoot runs flawlessly and all crew members are kept happy during hectic shoots is a daunting task they take upon themselves. They are up early and usually the last to turn out the lights at the end of the day.

The one area that I find really separates the average or good producers from the great ones, is how they handle the digital workflow communication between the digital tech and the client. Too often the details of this vital operation are overlooked. In this post, I’ll cover the steps that every producer should utilize to keep the digital tech working efficiently and accurately.  Why is this important? When the digital tech is empowered to do his / her job well, the end result is a job delivered accurately, which then leads to the goal of every producer - a happy client and a happy photographer. So let's get started!

1. Remember to email the digital guidelines to the tech before the shoot.

There’s nothing more frustrating than walking into a shoot blind, not knowing how the client needs the images processed or how shots should be named. The simple step of providing this information to the digital tech in advance allows him or her to arrive prepared.

If the client does not already have a digital specification guideline, the following questions should be asked of the client––again, in advance of the shoot.

  1. Do you need both low-res JPEGs and high-res TIFFs processed?

    a. What size should the JPEGs be? (e.g. 12” long side at 150 dpi, sRGB color profile)  
    b. What size and color space should the TIFFs be? (e.g. 100%, 300 dpi, 8 bit, Adobe RGB)

  2. Should all images be processed or only edited selects?

  3. How should images be named?

2. Have a shot list prepared in a format that can be emailed to the tech, so that shot names can be copied & pasted into Capture One Pro.

Traditionally, producers love to print out shot lists, which is a really fast way to introduce errors into the workflow, since the tech will have to manually type in everything. In dark studios or bright conditions on location, and a busy work environment, it’s extremely easy to make typos. If not discovered immediately, these mistakes will appear in multiple versions of processed files. The correction process then becomes very time consuming, or if not corrected, can lead to confusion and frustration on the client end when the files are not named correctly. Having a version of the shot list where shot names can be copied/pasted eliminates user input errors from the digital tech. However, it doesn't protect from input errors from the producer. This leads us to the next point below.

3. Communicate any changes to the shot list, before the model is on set.

Do your best to stay in the shot order or make sure to communicate with the tech each and every time there’s a change of order in the shot list before the model is on set. It’s very frustrating when a photographer is 150 frames into a shot and then the stylist or producer says “Oh, we skipped ahead to shot number XX.” This is the second fastest way to introduce errors into the workflow, after point 2 above, because everyone will want to review the images immediately after shooting, then edit, and then start the next shot immediately, which leaves very little time to rename mistakes. Making a conscious effort to communicate with the tech before the start of each shot to confirm the shot order is an important step in maintaining an accurate workflow. Again, accurate workflows make happy clients and photographers, and will likely save you in overtime expenses since the tech won’t have to rename or reprocess files to fix naming errors.

4. Don’t use Microsoft Excel.

As a producer, you need a tool that allows you to push changes to the tech immediately, without emailing a new version of a spreadsheet, and definitely without printing another version. How can a producer achieve this? Well, as the owner of a shoot management platform, I’m a bit shameless in my endorsement of BitPix, which is a centralized system for the tech, producer, art directors, stylist, etc., to all share a unified view of the shot list. However, if you’re not quite ready for BitPix, a better alternative to Excel is Google Sheets. You can click the “share” button within Google Sheets and send it to the tech or any other crew members that may need it. Now when shot 2 is swapped with shot 10, their copy of the list updates at the same time you make changes! Pretty great, right?

5. Avoid creating the shot list over a glass of wine.

Once the final frame of the day is taken and the wrap clap commences, we all love a nice glass of wine to reward our hard work. However, if you can hold off until after the next day's shot list is completed (or finish the list earlier in the day), input errors and typos will be significantly reduced. 

6. Remember the hard drive.

This is an all too often occurrence. The producer has thought of every detail and the shoot is running perfectly. The photographer is nailing every shot, the client is pumped and then… “Oh ya, the hard drive. We have no way to get these amazing images to the client. Do you have one we can use?” Most techs and studios will have drives available, but they will come at a steep markup. Bringing a previously purchased hard drive to the shoot will save money in the budget and will also be one less thing to track down during the hectic shoot. 

7. Don’t bring a drive with existing data on it or a USB 2.0 drive from 1999.

For digital techs to do their job, they need the fastest drive possible, the most space on the drive possible, and they also can’t be responsible for old data on the drive.

You can easily gauge the speed of the drive by taking a quick glance at the cord that comes with it. Here's a visual guide that should help. Ideally, Thunderbolt drives are the best, followed by USB 3.

Notice the white color in USB 2 and the blue color in USB 3. This is an easy way to differentiate the two.

If you accidentally leave data on a drive, don’t ask the tech to “just delete it.” You or the client should delete the old data and then hand the digital tech a clean drive.

Here’s a hard drive that I’d recommend to producers. You are bound to start off on a good note with the tech when you hand them one of these before the first shot: LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 1 TB

8. Allow time for processing.

These days, clients want to walk away from the shoot 10 minutes after the last shot with a drive in hand. When the photographer shoots 400 frames on the last shot, this is simply not possible. When planning the shot list, remember to take into account the time needed to process the last shot and the time to backup to multiple hard drives. This will avoid awkward situations where the client expects to leave with the drive but it’s not ready or situations where they are asked to sit around and wait for an hour. On average, most digital techs will need approximately an hour after wrapping to fully process, backup, and verify all data.

Here’s a quick recap of all the above items, which you can copy and paste into a note on your phone or email to yourself for quick reference.

  1. Remember to email the digital guidelines to the tech before the shoot.

  2. Have a shot list prepared in a format that can be emailed to the tech.

  3. Communicate any changes to the shot list, before the model is on set.

  4. Don’t Use Microsoft Excel. Use BitPix for a full shoot management platform or Google Sheets as a simplistic alternative.

  5. Don't create the shot list over a glass of wine.

  6. Remember the hard drive. 

  7. Don’t bring a drive with existing data or a USB 2.0 drive from 1999. Use a LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt drive.

  8. Allow time for processing after the shoot––at least 1 hour.

As far as the digital workflow is concerned, if you can follow the recommendations above, you will be loved by digital techs and the clients alike, since their deliverable will be accurate and on time! 

If you have any questions or suggestions you’d like to add, please leave a comment on this page. We'd love to hear from you.